If you have been around small children for very long, you will probably hear parents utter the phrase, “Use your words.” This is usually in response to a child having a tantrum or resorting to yelling to get attention. Parents are reminding their children that the way to communicate is through using their words so others know what they want.
My oldest son has enjoyed playing online games since he was about four years old. We have always tried to encourage him to play games that have educational value, but we also allow him to play games just for fun. One Saturday afternoon my son was playing a semi-educational game.Â At the end of the game a certificate would print out congratulating him on his success. Before starting the game he was asked to enter his name. He proceeded to play the game and got his certificate. Then he decided to play the game again; the program asked him for his name just like the first time. This is where I got involved. “Daddy,” he called out; I came in the room thinking he had closed the window he was in and needed me to get him back to his game. Turned out he had a different problem.
“Why doesn’t the game remember who I am?” he asked. After getting filled in on what happened, I offhandedly said, “must be poorly handled cookies”.Â Like any 5-year old, he asked what cookies where doing in the computer. “These aren’t cookies you eat,” I began, and then explained how websites use small files to keep information about you and your online usage, like your name. This took more than a few minutes to explain, but he finally understood the concept. His next question was, “Why didn’t the website people test this out?”
The most amazing thing about kids isn’t how much information they can take in without being filled up, but their ability to remember what they have learned. The following day my in-laws were over for dinner, and my son was playing some online games again.Â My father-in-law walked into the den and I overheard him talking to my son.Â When he returned to the kitchen he said, “The only types of cookies I know about are the kind you eat but, your oldest told me there are cookies in the computer.”
We spend a lot of time learning our specialties, and as part of that comes a whole set of terms and acronyms. It becomes natural to talk in our own language, even when we deal with people not in our specialty. This is where problems begin, especially when we are called on to be part of a larger team that includes such people. A failure to find a common language can result in a project failing to meet deadlines, or worse. In the long run, you may find yourself being shut out of such cross-team projects, which are your best opportunity to show people you really have an expertise.
Language can become a barrier, even when it is not our intent. It can be frustrating to “outsiders” when we speak our own language; it can even sound like we are talking down to them, when that’s not our intent.Â Likewise, we may become frustrated when others try to speak our language and fail to understand the nuances of our terms.Â There are times when the best way to talk about what you know is in your own terminology. In fact, if we take the time to educate others on those terms, we can even expand our status as an expert. Likewise, if we take the time to learn the terminology of others we gain their respect and make it easier to communicate our ideas.Â In the end, that respect and communication are what lead us to provide the best results for our clients and organizations.Â We spend our childhood learning to use our words, then our adulthood learning other people’s words.